Charly Hanson set her purse on the table and sat down on the arm of the couch. This was not the life she'd envisioned for herself. Divorced at thirty-two, working as a secretary during the day, and taking college classes at night. She'd married Richard her freshman year of college and dropped out to help him run his business. Even though he'd given her everything in the divorce settlement--including a nice monthly alimony check--she didn't want to spend the rest of her life relying on him and his money.
She slipped into a silky, peach nightie, lit a few aromatherapy candles and lay down on the couch. The soothing scent of lavender filled her and soon she drifted off to sleep. But, as usual, her relaxation was short lived.
The high-pitched blare of the smoke detector ripped her from her dream. She coughed, sputtering out the mouthful of smoke she had just swallowed.
She tried to focus her eyes, but the grey mist made it impossible to see much. The entire front wall, nearest the entertainment center--where she'd placed the candles--was engulfed in flames. The fire licked at the walls, its heat seeping into her very core. She rolled off the couch and started to crawl across the room. Her shoulder banged into the glass table on the end of the couch. She cursed and rubbed at the ache, then rushed out the front door.
Once outside, she sat on the front lawn her chest aching from the smoke she had inhaled. She took a deep breath of the clean air and flopped back onto the damp grass. Within minutes, the fire department had arrived.
A lanky firefighter jumped out of the passenger side of the truck as it slowed in front of her house. He was to her in a few long strides. "Are you okay, Miss?"
"Do you think you can walk? We need to move you away from the house."
She sat slowly and started to pull herself up. Black spots swirled in front of her eyes like hundreds of attacking gnats. She swung her head back and forth in an effort to regain her clarity. When that failed, she hung the front of her head between her knees, willing herself to stay conscious.
"On second thought..." He leaned over, scooping her up in his arms.
"Put me down. I'm more than capable of walking." As if she didn't already feel faint. Her heart raced as she hung rigidly over his shoulder.
"Well, you don't look capable to me." He hauled her over to the truck and set her down on the curb in front of it. He reached into one of the many metal compartments on the side of the vehicle, pulled out a blanket and tossed it into her lap. "Stay put," he said as he swaggered away.